2010. I struggled for weeks trying to come up with the most appropriate adjective to sum up my experiences in the past year, and I finally stumbled upon it: dramatic. A LOT has happened this year, and I’m still trying to wrap my brain around it. I started out the year in a relationship that I was very happy with and a job that well, I didn’t hate. By April, the former had crashed and burned, and the latter had started a downward spiral to the point where it was difficult to drag myself out of bed in the morning. I started seeing a therapist for what I thought was depression, but the bigger issue turned out to be anxiety (the panic attacks probably should have been a clue).
And then I started the steady climb back up. In a few short months, I had a handle on my anxiety, was sleeping well at night, with no more panic attacks. I made it through my first wedding season as a professional shooter and was happy with my resulting portfolio. I shot the amazing beyond belief Matador at 21 festival and simultaneously realized that I had managed to patch my heart back together once again. I got fired from the crappy job where I was underpaid and unappreciated, and used the much-needed funemployment time to catch up on life maintenance. I nailed an interview and was subsequently offered a job at a company that is excitingly innovative and where I wouldn’t have to deal with the frustrations of benchwork. I accepted said job, but not before making sure I would have time to take a trip to South Africa before my start date. I left for South Africa five days after booking my flight, and spent two weeks traveling the country and taking many gigabytes of photos with my good friend Adrian. Four days after I returned, I started the new job, where I found my fellow employees to be helpful and, even better, happy.
Looking back at it all, I wonder when I had time to stop and catch my breath. Or if I ever will. It’s been a tremendous year for both my personal and professional growth (in two different careers), so even with as much crap that I had to go through, I’m thankful that it pushed me to become even more who I want to be. I have a feeling that decades from now, I’ll look back on this year as one of those pivotal years. And here’s the music that helped me find my way through it:
1. Big Star – The Ballad of El Goodo
This is the quintessential “hang in there” song – of course it is, it’s a Big Star song. Alex Chilton passed away in March of this year, and the news hit me harder than I would have imagined. I played this song on the Livewire jukebox one afternoon when there were only four other people in the bar, and one of them (who I didn’t know) was apparently a big fan of the song, pounding the bar with his hands on the chorus. I love when that happens.
2. Childish Gambino – Difference
Donald Glover has become a HUGE role model to me this year. Most of the reasons can be found in this song. “Take chances like pictures,” indeed.
3. Frightened Rabbit – Nothing Like You
Life is in constant forward motion. One day you’re in a relationship that you think you might be your last, the next day you’re not and you have to figure out how to go on from there. Let’s just say this song found its way to me at a very appropriate time of my life.
4. Jay-Z – Empire State of Mind
I photographed Jay-Z at Coachella this year, and Pitchfork ran my photo in most every news story involving Jay-Z after that point. I was hoping he’d perform this song within the first three of his set so that I wouldn’t miss it when I went to shoot PiL. He didn’t, but after I finished shooting my last set and was heading past the main stage to the exit of the festival, I heard the opening strains of the song. I stopped. And danced. Which is impressive given my energy level (or lack thereof) at that point. That memory still brings a smile to my face.
5. Freelance Whales – Ghosting
I can’t even begin to describe how integral to my life their entire Weathervanes album has become this year. I bounce back and forth about which song is my favorite, but this is the one that my good friends Adam and Angela used for the bridesmaids’ entrance at their wedding. I cried a tiny bit. While shooting. And I NEVER cry at weddings.
6. The National – Terrible Love (Alternate Version)
In the two months after my breakup in April, it felt like all my favorite bands came into town to cheer me up. Freelance Whales. The Hold Steady. Frightened Rabbit. And The National, who might be my favorite of them all. I was able to snag a photo pass at the last minute, and had a great birthday dinner with Andrew before the show. Months later, we listened to a bootleg of the show while editing Matador at 21 photos in a Las Vegas hotel room.
7. Horse Feathers – The Widower
I didn’t realize Horse Feathers had put out a new album until I saw them at the Casbah in December. I went home, purchased the album, and have been listening to this song on repeat since. The chorus of “Stay awhile/with me” is perfectly haunting.
8. Admiral Fallow – Dead Against Smoking
A recent find, from Heather at Fuel/Friends, who has become a close friend over the years and over many IM conversations about boys. Just like we’re 14, I know. The chorus of “You’re gasoline,” reminds me of The Silent Comedy’s “Gasoline,” which I guess makes me predisposed to like this song.
9. The Hold Steady – We Can Get Together
One of my favorite live bands, I was fortunate to see them twice this year. The first of those two shows was instrumental in helping me climb out of post break-up depression, and for that, I will forever be thankful.
10. Y La Bamba – Fasting in San Francisco
They opened a few weeks ago for Horse Feathers at the Casbah. I had several great conversations that night, including one that I would have thought was impossible a year or two ago. Something about this song just gets me in all the right places.
11. Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin – Sink/Let it Sway
I loved Broom when it came out years ago, and their new album Let it Sway was one of my favorites this year. Via Kickstarter, I helped them purchase a new tour van, and was really happy to see them play at The Loft back in November.
12. Jonsi – Go Do.
This essentially became my new motto: Go Do. It gave me the courage to head to South Africa on barely a moment’s notice. And has become the advice I give to people who email me about wanting to be a photographer.
13. These United States – What Lasts
This summer, Heather (from Fuel/Friends) introduced me to Sarah Law, who’s become an amazing friend and inspiration, and who also introduced me to this band. Sooo so good.
14. Kanye West – All of the Lights
Adrian requested that I pick up this album and bring it to South Africa with me. I did, and now I have fantastic memories of our road trip though the country soundtracked by this album. In the past I’ve gone back and forth about whether I’m a fan of Kanye’s, but this album is jaw-droppingly good.
15. Cee Lo Green – Bright Lights Bigger City
Another ridiculous album. I went with this song for the mix, but I will always have a hilarious memory about getting stopped by the South African traffic police at a checkpoint while “Fuck You” was playing in the car. My hand has never moved quicker towards the stereo volume than it did then.
16. Lykke Li – Paris Blue
This song makes my heart ache. A departure from her usual style, but I hope to hear more like this in the future.
17. Swim Party – Don’t You Be Precious
Yes, this is the band I play in. I’m cheating a bit. But I didn’t play on the EP version of this song, and it just happens to have replaced “The Kids are a Drag” as my favorite Swim Party song. So sure me for including it.
18. Mumford and Sons – White Blank Page
Another outstanding live show that I saw this year. Not much is more cathartic than singing along with “Tell me now/where was my fault/in loving you/with all my heart.”
19. Ted Leo and the Pharmacists – Bottled in Cork
Oh, Ted Leo. He was far and away the hero of the Matador at 21 weekend in Las Vegas. He was EVERYWHERE. And so obviously in love with the label and the people and the fans. And that weekend was one that I will remember forever. It left me with such a great feeling, one that I’ve managed to hold onto since then, even though by all means it should have departed as soon as I left Vegas. This is what all good celebrations should do – not only make you appreciative of what you’re celebrating, but of EVERYTHING around you.
20. The Head and the Heart – Down in the Valley
Another hat-tip to Heather at Fuel/Friends for this band. This is an amazing driving song, and one that just fills up my heart so much. Hoping I can see this band live in the new year.
21. Superchunk – Learned to Surf
“I stopped swimming/and learned to surf.” That about sums up my year, right there. I stopped fighting against everything that was frustrating me, and instead found my way to the top and learned to roll with whatever came my way. Can’t wait to see what 2011 brings!